So Molly Crabapple has an article talking about being a Professional Naked Girl – someone who works as an independed soft-core model for the private collections of (frequently) amateur photographers.
This is the kind of work I’m talking about when I say that I’m an erotic/fetish model.
Now, I don’t make $100/hr. (Yet). Possibly this is because I don’t live in NYC, or possibly it’s because I’m not in my early 20s, but most likely it’s because I don’t (yet) have the guts to charge that much for my services. None the less, the job is the same. Like Molly, I hunt for work on Craigslist and Model Mayhem. Like her, I have a drawer or two full of Interesting Lingerie and a closet full of gorgeous (but largely impractical) shoes. But, unlike her… I actually like my job.
I’m lucky.
I’m lucky because I live in a fairly sex-positive bubble that includes both my wider social milieu (kinky, queer activists) and my closest friends and family-members. I have a wife who is hella supportive of what I do and who acts as my assistant on shoots; I have a lot of friends who work in the sex industry, doing types of sexwork that are a lot more intense/intimate than what I’m doing; and, beyond that, I’ve got a parallel modeling career in the more socially-acceptable field of figure modeling – nude modeling for people who paint or draw their pictures rather than using a camera – which gives me some plausible deniablity when it comes to folks, like my siblings or my landlord, who might not be so supportive otherwise. All of this goes a long way towards keeping me happy and fulfilled – rather than shamed and anxious – in my soft-core work.
But I’m also lucky because I started this work in my late twenties, when I’d already (finally) developed a sense of agency, autonomy, and body-comfort… rather than starting in my late teens, like Molly, at a time when my understanding of sexual situations boiled down to “If you flirt, you have to be prepared to go all the way”. I suspect that, had I had the first clue about how to find work as a fetish/glamour/boudoir model in 2001, I’d have either run in the other direction or else tried it and wound up dealing with the same feelings of vulnerability, fear, shame, and contempt that Molly discusses in her article.
It feels like a chicken-and-egg situation, the way the Cult of Youth in our culture’s beauty standard is, at the same time, a Cult of The Engenue – the naive innocent girl; the way our naratives around sex position women – especially young women – as victims/helpless/prey, and teaches them (us) that knowing too much about sex, or being too sexually (or otherwise) confident[2], means you’re a-slut-who-deserves-what-she-gets (violence, shame, cruelty, rape, humiliation…).
I could go on and on and on (in circles, most likely) about how teaching girls to be afraid of sex is a Bad Idea, and how teaching girls to be compliant out of fear of what will happen if they aren’t, is also a Bad Idea… No matter how or when those attitudes come to a head, they are always horrible and damaging.
I’m grateful for my bubble. Grateful because it gives me somewhere to come home to where it’s taken as a matter of course that women aren’t working their appearances around the desire for male (any male) attention; where street harassment still happens, but it happens within the context of “What a bunch of douchebags, did they even slow down?” rather than “Oh, god, what did I do wrong? Is this a safe neighbourhood?”; where generalizations about how a woman “should” look are met with The Unimpressed Face of Stink-Eye.
Some women find their entry point into Bubble World through sex work. I’m the other way around. I don’t think I could do this work safely, or happily, or without doing myself a lot of emotional damage, if I didn’t have my bubble to come home to.
Ms Syren.
[1] And positions men – particularly older men, but not only – as preditors-by-nature, which also sucks rocks and contributes to Rape Culture like woah.
[2] Because any confidence in women is seen as being “too forward”, and we all know what “forward” really means, don’t we?